Good Will Hunting is one of my favourite films. As a young man, Will Hunting has a photographic memory, exceptional intelligence and an unprecedented talent for mathematics. Yet despite such profound gifting, his highly abusive upbringing renders him incapable of any professional and emotional life. Instead, he clings to his macho, working-class persona and his life revolves around low-skilled jobs, hanging out with his tight gang of friends, fighting and getting into trouble. The story is one of rescue, hope and healing as Will eventually learns to trust and open up to others who love and care about him. For me, one of the most memorable scenes is when his childhood friend Chuckie chastises Will about his wasted life. At the risk of his own loss of macho face and incurring Will’s wrath he confesses his recognition of Will’s potential and his hope that his friend will someday take his ticket out of the wasteful life to which he himself is forever destined.
“Every day I come by your house and I pick you up and we go out. We have a few drinks, and a few laughs, and it’s great. But you know what the best part of my day is? For about ten seconds, from when I pull up to the curb and when I get to your door, ’cause I think, maybe I’ll get up there and I’ll knock on the door and you won’t be there. No goodbye. No see you later. No nothing. You just left. I don’t know much, but I know that.”
Put simply, the moral of the story is not to let your past prevent you from grabbing the full potential of your life. When Will finally decides to move on it is at great personal risk. By leaving his current downtrodden situation and heading off to California to follow his estranged girlfriend, he opens himself up to love and life, and we get the feeling that he will begin to flourish as he embraces the truth of what he is and could be. I’m retelling this story in very simple, way too trite terms, but its beauty is that it exposes the human condition in all its complexities, its hurts, its reluctance to trust, its fear of failure and its instinct to stay in the safe and secure even when that means incredible waste.
Will Hunting was blinded to his potential (or at least running away from it) because he had grown up with an abusive foster father who had told him he would never amount to anything. Perhaps you see why this film speaks so much to me? Maybe you’re beginning to see for yourself that this is exactly where the devil has us – in a place of darkness, blinded to the potential of the ‘zoe’ life. Indeed, when you look at this with enlightened eyes it’s easy to recognise just how much Satan blinds non-Christians – and regrettably many Christians too – to the truth of the Gospel: the reality of existence after death on this earth, the sacrifice Jesus made to save people from Hell, the love and power of the cross, the miracle of the resurrection and the gift of forgiveness. For non-Christians there are crucial and pressing issues that don’t even appear on their radar. They are truly blind to the brevity of life, the gravity and seriousness of their sin, the reality and horror of sin’s power to enslave and the coming judgment for those who die without Christ: ‘Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment’ (Heb. 9:27). John 10:10 warns of ‘the thief who comes only to steal and kill and destroy’, and it would certainly seem to be the case that Satan blinds non-Christians to his hidden agenda for their lives. Will Hunting had no idea just how bound he was to his situation. From the depths of his wounded self and the cocoon of his small, self-preservation fuelled existence he could not look beyond to the reality that others could perceive might be his. Thankfully for Will there were those – motivated by friendship, professional determination and love – who committed themselves to releasing the young man to the truth of his potential, those who could take his hand and guide him onto a path of freedom and light and truth and life in everything it should be for a man of his gifting. Isn’t this just the same for us as Christians – we who see that there is so much more, we who know the truth about sin and judgment and death and Jesus and forgiveness and Salvation? Is it not our duty and our honour to do what Christ would have us do for his glory?
Only when we recognise and are suitably grateful for our Salvation, when our eyes are opened to the reality around us and we see the truth of our ‘prisons’, then we begin to take risks; then we begin to trust our Master and speak out for him in love and desperation for others. Then we begin to listen and act in obedience, gratitude and love.
There is the wonderful true story of Quaker missionary Stephen Grellat. About a century ago Stephen Grellat was led one day to go out to a heavily forested area of America to preach. It was a strong inward compulsion of the Holy Spirit. When he arrived at the loggers’ camp, he found they had moved to another location, and their shanties were deserted. However, he was so sure he was sent by God that he went into an empty shanty and preached to the bare walls the sermon God had placed upon his heart. He then returned to his home. He could never understand why God would send him to preach to an empty shanty.
Many years later, as he walked across a bridge, a man grasped his arm, ‘I found you at last,’ the man said.
‘I think you are mistaken,’ said Mr Grellat.
‘No, didn’t you preach in an empty shanty in the woods years ago?’ ‘Yes,’ Mr Grellat admitted, ‘but no-one was there.’
‘I was the foreman in charge of the loggers,’ the stranger explained. ‘We had moved to a new location but before long I realised I’d left one of my tools behind. I returned to get it and heard a voice in one of the shanties; I peered through a crack between the logs and saw you. You never saw me, but I listened to the rest of the sermon. God touched my heart that day and I became so convicted of my sins, that after some time I purchased a Bible, repented of my sins, and became a Christian, then I began to win my men to Christ. Your sermon has led over a thousand people to Christ, and three of them have gone on to become missionaries!’
This story thrills me. First of all, imagine having such conviction! Isn’t this the relationship we should all expect with our Lord, that He would so lead us? I wonder what was going through Grellat’s mind as he made his way into the forest? The suggestion is that he fully expected to be doing God’s work there. He was simply being obedient to a familiar calling. I’m sure he expected a large number of men. Many would be tough, worldly, perhaps not too interested to listen to his preaching. Perhaps he prayed for protection and that the Holy Spirit would soften their hearts . . . But what did he think when he got there and found the area deserted? He must have been rather taken aback. I suspect if it had been me I would have been quite distraught to find the place empty. I’d probably have turned right around and given up in frustration and anger. Yes, I know and believe that scripture about God’s word never returning void, but this would have seemed like a step too far. Not for Grellat, though. Did he doubt God? Did he doubt himself? No. He obediently got on and did what he believed God had asked him to do. He preached his sermon of Salvation to an empty shack and bare walls. We are not told whether his mind was in turmoil and confusion as he left that day. Maybe this was the case, although I suspect more that he left – though not understanding – with peace in his heart, knowing that he’d done his master’s will. Perhaps the incident remained on his mind for many weeks to come before slowly fading in his memory. Then all those years later, a stranger approaches him on a bridge and reminds him in a most glorious way of one afternoon when he chose to be faithful. What a blessing that God should choose to reveal the truth of the situation to him! Sometimes God surprises us this way, letting us see the fruits of our words or actions, even many years later. Imagine Grellat’s joy, knowing that his obedience, his apparent foolishness, had led to the winning of so many souls, more indeed than he could ever know about. We should never be surprised to hear such stories and always be expectant that when we do God’s will, when we are obedient to His calling, we are part of the ‘eternal’ picture, a picture that we may not recognise or understand at the time or, indeed, ever in this lifetime.
The reason I tell this story is to emphasise that faithfulness to our calling is paramount and that we should be careful to never stray away from the truth or to be misguided by what we think we see. Though the devil might try to blind us, might tell us there’s no-one in the shack to listen, we must set our sights, in gratitude-driven obedience, on proclaiming the Gospel with the sole purpose of glorifying Him who sees the bigger story, because He is the Author of the book.
From ‘PASSION’ pages 196-201 by Tony Anthony